Kellen Shroeder mrWF Work Ethic Scholarship Recipient suggests listen to your dad & check out a welding program
By the time Kellen Shroeder reached the second grade he knew exactly what he wanted to be when he grew up – a paleontologist. He was fascinated by fossils and delighted by dinosaurs. It’s easy to understand considering where he grew up. Plattsmouth, Nebraska is rich with limestone deposits. Kellen loved to hunt for fossils in the city park. He would scour the limestone, searching for ancient creatures, like a junior Indiana Jones. (Though clearly, he’s more of a Jurassic Park man.)
Other interests came along. The Shroeders moved to Hoquiam, Washington, and that’s where Kellen went to high school. He started competing in track and field. He took up backpacking and fishing. “I just enjoyed being outside.”
It was about that time that he started to question whether a future in paleontology was actually realistic. His dad said he should check out the skilled trades, welding in particular. He pointed out that kids aren’t interested in the trades like they used to be. Dad had friends in the unions that were getting ready to retire and they were concerned by the lack of youthful replacements available. Kellen’s dad saw this as a huge opportunity for an industrious young man to start a career in a field that was actually in demand, but Kellen wasn’t sold. Dad was full of helpful advice Kellen often ignored.
Dad’s wasn’t the only advice Kellen ignored. “The schools were pushing 4-year College down our throats and telling us that’s the only way to be happy.” That didn’t feel right to Kellen either. He decided he would go a completely different way – the military. At the beginning of his senior year, Kellen was looking into joining the Air Force, where he expected to learn a trade that he could take into the private sector. He settled on a technical skill – HVAC – and was very close to enlisting when a family friend, a veteran Air Force recruiter, informed Kellen that once he signed on the dotted line, the Air Force could teach him whatever they wanted, regardless of Kellen’s preference. That plan was quickly scuttled.
Kellen investigated other opportunities. He looked at all of the skilled trades, and he competed. In 2013 he placed 4th in the nation at SkillsUSA in Major Appliance Repair. He finished 8th the next year in Audio Radio Production. His senior year he discovered that the state of Washington offered a “Running Start” program, where they pay for students to attend community college while they’re still going to high school. It starts during junior year, and students graduate with a HS diploma and Associates degree at the same time. Kellen found out these students were often making $50-60K as soon as they graduated. But Kellen was halfway through his senior year. “I wish I would have discovered this sooner.”
As he continued his search for what-to-do-with-the-rest-of-his-life, Kellen discovered that nearby Grays Harbor College had a preeminent welding program. Welding instructor, Rod McDonald, was well known and respected by folks at the naval shipyard in Bremerton, as well as all of the companies up and down the I-5 corridor. His students got first looks at every job opening. They know that Mr. McDonald teaches more than just the hard skill of welding. He also stresses the soft skills, “Show up on time and be the guy your boss doesn’t have to worry about or babysit and you’re 90% there.”
Could it be that Kellen would circle back to the advice his dad had given him and pursue welding? In Kellen’s words, “Every time that dad gave advice and I went against it; I turned out to be wrong.”
But Kellen didn’t jump into welding with both feet. “I decided I would take it for one quarter and see if I liked it – Best decision I ever made.” The truth was that Kellen only had enough money saved to pay for one quarter. Thankfully his mom found the mikeroweWORKS Work Ethic Scholarship Program online. Thanks in part to that scholarship, Kellen plans to graduate next summer.
I asked Kellen what he thought of the S.W.E.A.T. Pledge Mike Rowe wrote and he said, “It’s pretty much what my dad has been telling me my whole life.” Kellen now has some advice of his own to offer, “Listen to your dad, and check out the welding program!”
If you’d like to learn more about opportunities in the skilled trades and #GetSkilledWithMRW check out mikeroweWORKS.org and findskilledjobs.com
PS. If you know someone who has received a work ethic scholarship and would like to share their story with us, please drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org